Jackie at the crossroads

So you're sitting around with a group of friends talking, the conversation skipping cheerfully from one topic to another, turning eventually, somehow, to a discussion of the best and worst public restrooms you've each encountered.

Your friend Jackie says that she is terrified of the bathrooms at the airport. Because of the spiders.

Most of the group hasn't heard about the spiders, so Jackie explains. There're these poisonous spiders from South America that stow away on international flights and wind up living in most airports and, because they like cool, damp places, they settle in bathrooms. Under the toilet seats in airport bathrooms. And one of them bit this woman when she was using the restroom and she died.

"That's a myth," your friend Dan says, reaching for his iPhone.

"But this girl I work with told me about it," Jackie says. "She read it in a magazine. And she said her cousin knew the lady who died."

"Nope," Dan says. "Urban legend. Look."

He hands her the phone with this page from Snopes.com on the screen, disproving the story.

Now Jackie is at a moral crossroads. She has to make a choice. The actual facts do not appear to be in dispute, but she is invested in this story. She has told it before, several times. She has endured quite a bit of discomfort at airports because she believed it to be true. Forced to choose by the Snopes page confronting her on Dan's phone, she will either have to disavow or double-down.

When it comes to it, this kind of moral crossroads is rarely experienced as a difficult dilemma. A choice must be made, but that choice will almost always by based on the kind of person making it — based on the character and habits and practice that have shaped that person up until this moment of choosing. A good Jackie will take one path, a bad Jackie will take the other.

Good Jackie will quickly realize that her co-worker led her astray. The persuasive personal embellishments about the magazine and the cousin must have been outright lies. Good Jackie may have to talk with her co-worker about this, and will trust her less in the future.

She will then be dismayed to recall the other occasions on which she repeated this story, reminding herself that she will need to correct that at her next opportunity. That will be somewhat embarrassing, as it will involve admitting to a measure of naivete, but Good Jackie, being good, long ago realized that such small embarrassments were never as painful or as damaging as the sort of preposterously defensive lies one becomes trapped in if one attempts to live a life wholly free of embarrassment.

Good Jackie, being good, also has a sense of humor and that will be her saving grace. Having a sense of humor entails finding a joke funny even when you yourself are the butt of it, as Good Jackie quickly realizes she has been here.

"Oh my goodness," she says, laughing. "When I got back from California I had to pee so bad and I held it all the way home because of the stupid spiders." She works this into a long, funny story about an enormously uncomfortable cab ride ending with a massively overlarge tip because she couldn't bear to wait one more second for change. That story will, for you and all your friends gathered there, be forever linked to the urban legend about the South American toilet spiders. None of you will ever spread that legend, but you'll retell it again and again just to set up the story of poor Jackie squirming in the cab, doing those lamaze breathing exercises the whole way home. (It's funniest when Jackie tells it because of the faces she makes when she does the breathing thing.)

And forever after, whenever any two of you are together in an airport, you will make jokes about toilet spiders and you will laugh warmly because Jackie is your friend and you love her.

The story of Bad Jackie does not end as happily. Bad Jackie chooses the other path, doubling down and defending the story despite the evidence confronting her on Dan's iPhone.

Like Good Jackie, she also recalls having told the toilet spider story many times. Unlike Good Jackie, she tended to appropriate the personal embellishments for herself — saying she read it in a magazine, and that her own cousin knew the unfortunate woman. That wasn't true, but it wasn't something she had planned to say or thought about much even as she was doing it. It just seemed like that was how the story needed to be told. That was what made it exciting and fascinating to her, so she needed to make it just as exciting and fascinating for the people she told it to as well. But because she said those things, her own credibility is tightly tied to the credibility of the story. Accepting that the story is false would be much more embarrassing for her than it would be for Good Jackie.

Bad Jackie cannot tolerate embarrassment, which means it is very important to her that she is never wrong — almost as important to her as pointing out when others are. Bad Jackie has got it in her head that this is where her value comes from. If she is right and others are wrong, then they are bad and she is good. So if she were to accept being wrong — even due to having been innocently deceived — then she would be bad. And she knows that deep down she has a good heart and so that can't be true and she must be right after all. She must be.

Her identity is at stake, you see. Her self-concept and with it her self-worth. This doesn't excuse what she does next, but it can help to understand, and to understand is always a step closer toward forgiving.

"It happened!" she insists, swatting away Dan's phone and suggesting he's gullible to take "some blog's word" over her own.

There's a moment of tension as the rest of you exchange the nervous glances you share whenever Jackie gets like this, telepathically communicating "Just drop it — you know how she is." You can see the fight-or-flight instinct taking over in Jackie and Big Drama seems imminent. Dan looks like he's about to say something — this Dan is a less patient, less kind person than the Dan in the other variation, because this Dan has spent years hanging out with Bad Jackie instead of with Good Jackie — but just then Susan cuts him off and saves the day by telling a long funny story about the spiders in the outhouse when she was dating Outdoorsy Guy and he took her to his cabin in Maine for the weekend. This segues into a lively, nonthreatening conversation about whether indoor plumbing might constitute a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for romance. Everyone is glad and relieved to move on as though the whole bit with Bad Jackie and the toilet spiders hadn't happened.

But everyone remembers. And whenever any two of you, not including Jackie, are together in an airport, you will make jokes about toilet spiders and laugh, coolly, because Jackie has been your friend forever and you love her. But sometimes it's just so much easier when she's not around.

  • renniejoy

    I just noticed that I have “I need to…”, “you need to…” and “renniejoy, stop that/WTF?”
    Except the one time I called myself my sister’s name – I can’t get upset by anyone else’s name confusion ever again. ;)

  • Mleczak

    @Tim
    ‘Every friday shall be limbo friday’

  • Tim

    @mleczak- ‘I have something very important to tell you about sheep, but I’ll be buggered if I remember what it is’

  • Amaryllis

    So… Odin is Stealth Jesus? BRILLIANT! No one would ever think to look for Jesus in another belief set entirely!
    Well, the Asatru and other Pagans around here don’t take kindly to the “your gods are all really Jesus!” theme, so let me say at once that that’s not what I meant. I was in a hurry, and just the quick association of the hat and the stealth reminded me of that post. But I was probably misreading the last page of what seems to have been a long debate, and getting muddled. Sorry!]

  • alienbooknose

    I prefer Purloined Jesus over Stealth Jesus as a band name, personally.
    So glad this thread has taken a turn for the funny, finally.

    Re: everyone’s varying experiences with the divine and numinous… Most of the time I don’t bother to identify myself as I’m an *anything religiony*, because most of the time I’m an apatheist. (Hadn’t seen that term before this thread I think, much likey.) I don’t believe and I don’t not believe. I mostly don’t care–my ethical system is founded on ideas and aesthetics that are perfectly valid with and without divinity.
    However, I’ve had experiences and sensations that certainly felt transcendent. Nothing so outright as Somebody talking to me, but feelings invoked by sitting under a certain tree, or singing a certain song as part of a ritual of walking home at night, or things like that. Maybe it’s just brain chemistry doing wacky things like it does, and maybe its a real sense of the divine. Maybe it’s brain chemistry because of the divine. Me, I don’t care. I’ll go repeat that ritual by that tree again either way.
    At one point in my life I really wanted to Be Religious, to get seized by something and be sure that this was It, so I came up with names and explanations for these experiences. Eventually I realized that it’s a fundamental part of me-ness that I don’t get along with belief *systems* and much prefer it to be mysterious, and gave up on trying to formalize my vague experiences. How sure I am that there’s anything behind these experiences varies by the day, anyways.

  • Doug

    In contrast to what some have said, I think this post is directly related to God-belief. It is however, emphasizing the difference between urban myths, which can be easily debunked on a website, and are the equivalent of fundamentalist religions that attempt to make factual statements about the world a matter of dogma, and the sort of unfalsifiable beliefs of many of the more liberal theists. “Skeptical theism,” call it. It doesn’t take very much to read this meaning from the post, given how often this blog addresses religious topics. Arguing that this post is merely about general skepticism/basing beliefs on evidence may be literally true, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to connect the parable to religious skepticism in particular.
    The analogy can be drawn further, where we consider the version of Jackie who accepts that the epidemic of bathroom spiders as being a myth, but is also still worried about whether there may not be SOME spiders in SOME bathrooms somewhere, and chooses to play it safe and checks under the seat before sitting for a wee. Dan says, “You know, it’s really no use worrying about spiders under bathroom seats, there’s no evidence to suggest there ever are any” ? Jackie can respond, “Yes, I know that, but you can’t prove there are no spiders anywhere either.” Kind of a stalemate, but I think one’s personal biases will inform who they think is being more rational.
    I realize it’s kind of a negative analogy, as in comparing God-belief to worrying about something is negative, but that’s not the point of it. I don’t think either Jackie or Dan are being Bad in this case. The question is whether this situation is more or less frequent than the strict dichotomy of evidence vs. superstition.

  • http://fiadhiglas.wordpress.com Laima

    @renniejoy, I have a whole host of what I think of as “aspects” of my self, and I’ve named many of them, because that makes it easier to keep them straight. So, for instance, my inner child? I actually have two: 6 year old Anneke and 7 year old Amelie. Others have names like Dainius, Kelliava, Haku, Micantis. None of them is me in my entirety; they all express facets of me, so collectively I call them my inner pantheon. (I’m a polytheist, so I have an “outer” pantheon of my deaties (sic) as well.)

  • alienbooknose

    @rennijoy & @Laima:
    I used to do that in a different way. They didn’t have actual names, but got called Trait Myname. This often happened when I was trying to describe some kind of inner conflict: Idealist Myname believes this, but Pragmatist Myname knows it will never work, or something like that.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird, whose real name is apparently hard to spell

    He still managed to misspell my name less than a handspan below that. After a while you just get inured to it…
    That, or every time someone writes your name for the first time, you make sure to comment on it. And if you ever see your name spelled incorrectly, you ask for them to change it. And soon every person you know is well aware of how your name is spelled and that, yes, you really do care.
    That works too.

  • Bryan Feir

    @Deird, whose real name is apparently hard to spell:
    Oh, I never said I got to the point where I ignored it… just that I got to the point where I would expect it, treat it as something that happens and gets dealt with, and usually (if somebody was obviously writing down my name after asking for it), just directly spell it after saying it to make sure.

  • renniejoy

    Laima and alienbooknose – Cool! :)

  • Tim

    Well, the Asatru and other Pagans around here don’t take kindly to the “your gods are all really Jesus!” theme, so let me say at once that that’s not what I meant.
    I was actually trying to make the opposite Joke, implying Jesus was actually Odin, somewhat like the Family Guy Peter: “Thanks God” God: “No, it-” Vishu: “Nah, it’s okay” joke.
    I didn’t think you were trying to say Odin was Jesus, I just seized upon the Stealth Jesus and mention of cloaks to turn a funny out of what we’d been discussing.
    I was in a hurry, and just the quick association of the hat and the stealth reminded me of that post. But I was probably misreading the last page of what seems to have been a long debate, and getting muddled. Sorry!]
    Could be, but I’m not sure you need to apologize.

  • Amaryllis

    I don’t know, I seem to be confused a lot lately but I’m all in favor of funny.
    Also, I see that my new keyboard (it was not a good weekend for computer peripherals at my house) is still getting confused between BACKSPACE, ], and RETURN. :-(

  • Robin Zimmermann

    I think I had one experience in my life that was like a religious experience: I was playing the bass part of a one-piano four-hands duet with my sister, and … this is hard to articulate, sorry, and I don’t trust my memory … I felt like a pure conduit for the music – without self-awareness, sensing only her music and mine. It was pretty awesome, in an entirely literal sense. (;
    Drifting back upthread:
    MadGastronomer, Sep 21, 2010 at 08:09 AM:

    Yes, funerals are for the living, but there’s something to be said for respecting the beliefs of the dead enough to hold a funeral in keeping with their wishes. Any non-Mormons here want a Mormon posthumous baptism?

    *raises hand, tentatively*
    I don’t believe the Mormons have good reasons to believe what they do, but were I able to prevent suffering at the cost of looking a bit foolish and more than a bit disrespectful, I hope I would. Like those evangelicals who feel they must be constantly Spreading the Good News, the act is fundamentally well-meaning – it looks crazy because the beliefs motivating the act are crazy.
    (P.S. I’m glad to hear that the prognosis is as good as it is – I hope it turns out for the better soonest. :C )
    Doug, Sep 21, 2010 at 06:41 PM:

    In contrast to what some have said, I think this post is directly related to God-belief. It is however, emphasizing the difference between urban myths, which can be easily debunked on a website, and are the equivalent of fundamentalist religions that attempt to make factual statements about the world a matter of dogma, and the sort of unfalsifiable beliefs of many of the more liberal theists. “Skeptical theism,” call it.

    …can we not? It seems to me that the phrase implies that “skeptical” is a modifier of “theist”, as in the theist applied the full force of skepticism to their theistic beliefs and was nevertheless compelled to maintain them. I haven’t met a single theist of the sort you refer to who maintains that their beliefs are sufficiently supported to convince a skeptical outside observer.
    I believe they are skeptic theists, but they don’t generally present themselves as skeptics about their theism.

  • http://colorlessblue.blogspot.com colorlessblue

    There’s an apocalyptic fiction book I caught the prologue to not long ago, which begins with Michael banging on the door to God’s office to let him know that The End Times are on, and God thinks about it a bit and decides that he’s bored with this universe, tells the angels they’re on their own, and poofs off to some other plane of existence, leaving the angels confused in some field in Kansas, with the apocalypse nigh and no idea what to do about it.

    They did something similar in Supernatural.

  • http://colorlessblue.blogspot.com colorlessblue

    Likewise, not all who claim to be Odin might be him. How do you know? How do you test?
    Does he utter cryptic warnings? Apparently know things he shouldn’t? Charge me to slay giants? Probably Odin. Ask me for spare change? Nod and keep walking? Probably not.

    My first reaction was to say the second case is probably Jesus.
    *atheist, but great fan of the “least of these”*

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer

    I don’t believe the Mormons have good reasons to believe what they do, but were I able to prevent suffering at the cost of looking a bit foolish and more than a bit disrespectful, I hope I would. Like those evangelicals who feel they must be constantly Spreading the Good News, the act is fundamentally well-meaning – it looks crazy because the beliefs motivating the act are crazy.
    I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand your point. Do you mean that actually talking about the Afterlife at the funeral of a religious person causes sufficient suffering to people not of the deceased’s religion to justify not following the wishes of the deceased, or that not performing the proper rites for the dead could potentially cause enough suffering for the soul of the deceased to justify causing discomfort to attendees at the funeral? Or just that if you were a Mormon, you’d baptize dead people of other religions because of the belief that you were helping people?
    I don’t personally care why the Mormons do it, I just don’t want them to do it to me. It’s insulting.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer

    My first reaction was to say the second case is probably Jesus.
    Ha! I suppose so, yes, but given my life, I’m less worried about identifying Jesus than I am about identifying Odin, although admittedly I haven’t needed to do that for some years now, either.

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    “Stealth Jesus” sounds like Parker & Stone spy parody.

    I think it’s also worth noting that a number of atheists feel a bit…snubbed when believers talk about encountering gods.

    I can understand that feeling. Part of the issue may be that the hellfire-and-damnation subset of believers are also the ones who see themselves as proxies for their gods. When this subset talks about encountering gods, they sound very different from their tolerant colleagues. At times they sound as if they’re children scolding a sibling who has just broken a treasured vase: “Awww, you’re gonna get it from God!” Or else they sound like a student who claims to know the grades the teacher has given to classmates’ projects before the grades have been announced.

    “I knew the dame was going to be trouble as soon as she walked into my temple…”

    Good one. I admit I’m not schooled in that genre, even though one of its leading figures grew up in my community.

    Don’t take mead from strange gods, you don’t know what’s in it. :D

    Yes, because it might be the Askaldic Mead, where you drink it and you end up taking like George W. Bush.

    Do you mean that actually talking about the Afterlife at the funeral of a religious person causes sufficient suffering to people not of the deceased’s religion to justify not following the wishes of the deceased, or that not performing the proper rites for the dead could potentially cause enough suffering for the soul of the deceased to justify causing discomfort to attendees at the funeral?

    I’ve had a couple of experiences that were the opposite, where the deceased wasn’t all that religious but some of the family members were. In one case, during the funeral Mass the priest sounded as if he was chiding the deceased for leaving that faith decades ago. Many in the family were angry and hurt that the priest chose to do that.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer

    Yes, because it might be the Askaldic Mead, where you drink it and you end up taking like George W. Bush.
    Oh, nice one!
    I’ve had a couple of experiences that were the opposite, where the deceased wasn’t all that religious but some of the family members were. In one case, during the funeral Mass the priest sounded as if he was chiding the deceased for leaving that faith decades ago. Many in the family were angry and hurt that the priest chose to do that.
    Yeah, that was an asshole thing to do.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robinzimmermann Robin Zimmermann

    MadGastronomer, Sep 21, 2010 at 08:34 PM:

    I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand your point. Do you mean that actually talking about the Afterlife at the funeral of a religious person causes sufficient suffering to people not of the deceased’s religion to justify not following the wishes of the deceased, or that not performing the proper rites for the dead could potentially cause enough suffering for the soul of the deceased to justify causing discomfort to attendees at the funeral? Or just that if you were a Mormon, you’d baptize dead people of other religions because of the belief that you were helping people?

    The latter.

    I don’t personally care why the Mormons do it, I just don’t want them to do it to me. It’s insulting.

    I care why they do it. I’m unusual, because I don’t much care what happens to my body after I die (unless, of course, I’m not really dead), but the intentions seem much more salient to me than the disrespect. If nobody were willing to be altruistic merely because social norms are being violated, the world would be much worse.
    The Mormons are doing a bad thing with their posthumous baptisms – but I want to criticize the appropriate step in the broken chain of reasoning that led them there, and I think that step is believing that the dead cannot enter the kingdom of God without baptism.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer

    I don’t much care about intent, I care about actions. It’s wrong to convert people by force, and I can’t think of anything much more by force than when they aren’t even alive to object.

  • hapax

    In one case, during the funeral Mass the priest sounded as if he was chiding the deceased for leaving that faith decades ago.
    Not quite as egregious, but at my brother’s wedding, the minister chose to center his sermon about a quite specific and harsh reprimand of the bride for rejection his contention, during pre-marital counselling, that should “submit to” and “obey” her husband.
    Fortunately, at the reception, the happy couple just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Yeah, he’s a dick, but BridesParents love him and it made them happy…”

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robinzimmermann Robin Zimmermann

    MadGastronomer, you’re right. The same objection applies to lies about deathbed conversion, like the Lady Hope story.

  • Jeff

    [[That, or every time someone writes your name for the first time, you make sure to comment on it. And if you ever see your name spelled incorrectly, you ask for them to change it. And soon every person you know is well aware of how your name is spelled and that, yes, you really do care.]]
    Didn’t work on “MasterChef”…. One of the constestants was named Shetal, and she repeatedly told them it was like “beetle”. They still called her “Shee Tal”. (I called her “Shit All” but that was becasuse her cooking was pretty crappy. Nice person, from her blog, but she got moved along over much more talented chefs.)

  • http://city-of-ladies.blogspot.com Rebecca

    Didn’t some SFF author write about a saint who hated everyone?
    This may not be what you’re thinking of, but Susanna Clarke has a pissed-off saint in John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner.

    “What saint is in charge of ravens?” demanded the Charcoal Burner.
    “Ravens?” said the Almoner. “None that I know of.” He thought for a moment. “Saint Oswald had a pet raven of which he was extremely fond.”
    “And where would I find his saintliness?”
    “He has a new church at Grasmere.”
    So the Charcoal Burner walked to Grasmere and when he got there he shouted and banged on the walls with a candlestick.
    Saint Oswald put his head out of Heaven and cried, “Do you have to shout so loud? I am not deaf! What do you want? And put down that candlestick! It was expensive!” During their holy and blessed lives Saint Kentigern and Saint Bridget had been a monk and a nun respectively; they were full of mild, saintly patience. But Saint Oswald had been a king and a soldier, and he was a very different sort of person.
    “The Almoner at Furness Abbey says you like ravens,” explained the Charcoal Burner.
    “‘Like’ is putting it a little strong,” said Saint Oswald. “There was a bird in the seventh century that used to perch on my shoulder. It pecked my ears and made them bleed.”
    The Charcoal Burner described how he was persecuted by the silent man.
    “Well, perhaps he has reason for behaving as he does?” said Saint Oswald, sarcastically. “Have you, for example, made great big dents in his expensive candlesticks?”

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer

    No, definitely not Susanna Clark. This guy had a weird psychic quirk, that other people’s misery caused him migraines. He’d do anything to make it stop, just so his head would stop hurting, but he was a complete misanthrope. There were people who looked after him, who understood why he did what he did, but who thought he was awesome enough to put up with him being an asshole anyway, simply because of how far he’d go to help people. Something like that. I don’t think I ever read the story, just a description of it somewhere, possibly in Spider Robinson’s work.

  • Lunch Meat

    Idea on when it’s polite to correct someone’s false belief: if someone’s belief/worldview is provably false and they are inviting discussion, it’s okay to challenge. If someone’s ideas are provably false and they are using them to hurt people, you can and probably should challenge them. If someone’s ideas are untestable but are hurting people, it’s okay to challenge the action but not ridicule or denigrate the belief.

  • P J Evans

    A friendly head’s up that they exist would be nice, and no offense to believers, but being told they exist with all earnestness and sincerity is no comparison for some face to face.

    Well, actually, when one visits you or speaks to you, you’ll know it. It’s not like anything else in this world.

  • P J Evans

    I know that what I experienced is different from my normal talking to myself because of distinct physical sensations.
    My body and my mind felt different at the time than they do during regular “talking to myself” conversations*. Possibly this is the kind of thing that could be measured using various biofeedback methods, or functional MRI readings… but I don’t know if the state is replicable at all, much less at will under adverse conditions.

    Yes!
    That’s what it was like for me, that right there. I only got an answer in words the first time – it was enough, really. I ask for things, sometimes, and while what I get might not be what I hoped for, it was what I asked for. So….

  • hf

    I don’t think I ever read the story, just a description of it somewhere, possibly in Spider Robinson’s work.
    Very likely. The original evidently comes from Theodore Sturgeon.
    The evidence gods have left has always been in the minds of mortals.
    Do you mind if I ask why you think so?
    I know that people used to find giant bones and call them the remains of mythic heroes, or the Calydonian Boar sent by Artemis. That certainly makes it sound like they treated many myths as factual. People also spoke of miracles, including miracle cures and voices, associated with shrines and statues. The chief philosophers who cast doubt on all this did not seem to believe in personal deities of the sort you describe.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer

    Very likely. The original evidently comes from Theodore Sturgeon.
    Do you have the title?
    Do you mind if I ask why you think so?
    You don’t think myths are evidence left in the minds of mortals?
    OK, yes, it’s possible they left other evidence. But the most of the evidence we have now is in the minds of mortals.
    But I’m not going to have the conversation about just how literally the Hellenes or any other people took their myths. Yes, it’s very evident that they thought the gods had a physical existence and directly manipulated the physical world. It’s also very evident that they took wholly contradictory myths equally literally.

  • ajay

    She wanted me to break some of them up, so she sent me in to date all of them, as near as I can figure.
    MG has just gone down in my estimation quite a long way with this remark.

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    being told they exist with all earnestness and sincerity is no comparison for some face to face.

    For me, the question has been about the content that some believers say they get from their gods. I would feel like a heel if I challenged a believer who said that his god wants everyone to love and respect each other. But I might be justified if I challenged another one who said his god, say, forbade interracial marriage or same-sex marriage. I probably wouldn’t change the mind of the believer himself, but I might be able to convince others that he’s mistaken as one reason to oppose any move to make those things illegal.

  • Own This Idea Cheap

    ‘It’s also very evident that they took wholly contradictory myths equally literally.’
    Which is why Socrates ended up drinking hemlock – impiety and corrupting youth being the crimes he was sentenced for. Belief enforced by the power of the state is rarely completely benign, and at least in the eyes of various authorities such as the Archon, the gods demand their due. History is a less ambiguous source than the words and deeds of those that believe in god/gods.
    The gods may not demand belief, but very often, those acting in their name do. And are completely willing to enforce their belief with the penalty of death.
    I tend to care little about myths – history is more than sufficient to explain how people act.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer

    MG has just gone down in my estimation quite a long way with this remark.
    A) I had no idea that breaking them up was the point until they were breaking up.
    B) I’m poly, they were a poly household, dating all of them was the way to date any of them.
    C) It was a miserably abusive relationship on multiple sides, and “breaking them up” involved getting some people out of a very damaging situation.
    Think less of me if you like, but you might at least ask for the whole story first.

  • Tim

    Well, actually, when one visits you or speaks to you, you’ll know it. It’s not like anything else in this world.
    Which gets to my point. You saying it is is no replacement for an actual meeting. It’s hearsay, nothing more.
    For me, the question has been about the content that some believers say they get from their gods. I would feel like a heel if I challenged a believer who said that his god wants everyone to love and respect each other. But I might be justified if I challenged another one who said his god, say, forbade interracial marriage or same-sex marriage. I probably wouldn’t change the mind of the believer himself, but I might be able to convince others that he’s mistaken as one reason to oppose any move to make those things illegal.
    True enough, but tangential to my point.

  • Caravelle

    Rebecca : This may not be what you’re thinking of, but Susanna Clarke has a pissed-off saint in John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner.
    Oooooh ! What is that, a new book, a short story ?

  • ajay

    It’s a short story in the collection “The Ladies of Grace Adieu and other stories”, published a couple of years ago. It’s rather good.

  • renniejoy

    “You saying it is is no replacement for an actual meeting. It’s hearsay, nothing more.”
    Maybe it’s like the times when my sister and I traded off being my mother’s “mythical other daughter”? Though at least in those cases, there may have been photographic evidence.

  • Ysidro

    It’s not the story you’re thinking of, but having the ability to feel other people’s pain reminds me of a character from the comic “Stormwatch: Team Achilles.” They were ostensibly non-powered humans policing powered ones, except one did have a superhuman power. He would feel other people’s physical pain. His name was Jukko Hämäläinen and he lived in the middle of nowhere for obvious reasons. One comic had him staying at the HQ in NYC and not being able to sleep because of muggings, homless people dying, and one rather erotic overture.

  • Tim

    Maybe it’s like the times when my sister and I traded off being my mother’s “mythical other daughter”? Though at least in those cases, there may have been photographic evidence.
    I think a more fitting example would be you and your sister discovering your mother actually had another “other daughter” you’d never met but who turned out to actually exist.

  • hapax

    I think a more fitting example would be you and your sister discovering your mother actually had another “other daughter” you’d never met but who turned out to actually exist.
    Hmm. Change the sexes of the characters and that’s EXACTLY what happened to my spouse.
    Just sayin’.

  • Tim

    Hmm. Change the sexes of the characters and that’s EXACTLY what happened to my spouse.
    Just sayin’.

    Then you and or/he should understand there’s a marked difference between being told a thing exists and having tactile confirmation that it exists, which is the point I’m driving at.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer

    Since nobody has actually disagreed with that point, Tim, I don’t quite understand why you feel you have to keep driving at it.

  • Tim

    Because they keep seeming to offer anecdotes and examples that are missing that point, and I worry I didn’t express it right.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer

    Ah, so, pretty much how I felt in our earlier conversation.
    Tim, we do actually get your point, or at least I do and no one else is disputing it, but seriously, nobody here is asking you to believe based on the information you have now, and furthermore, we don’t care that we don’t believe. A lot of your responses aren’t making sense to at least some of us here, because you keep sounding to us like you’re still working on the assumption that we, or our gods, DO want you to believe. It’s confusing.

  • http://isabelcooper.wordpress.com Izzy

    Also, it’s Internet thread-drift. “Hey, A reminds me of B!”
    “Oh, B? B is cool. which makes me think of C.”
    Then, thirty pages later, someone’s all “…South American jumping spiders? I thought we were talking about the French economic system.”
    I don’t think a lot of the anecdotes/examples were intended to address your points; they were responses to points other people made, or dipping back into the thread from earlier, or whatever.

  • Mary Kaye

    I kind of suspect my gods don’t care if *I* believe in them, let alone you. Primacy of belief is central to some religions including many flavors of Christianity, but it is not central to all religions. It’s fairly irrelevant to (some forms of) both Buddhism and Shinto, for example. It’s not that important to Wicca in my experience: my public ritual group contained avowed atheists and agnostics.
    It seems to me that they care about what I do, and what kind of person I am. All of the prompting has been to those ends, and has been the kind of prompting that would be worth listening to even if I were agnostic about its source. I mean, suppose all the divine messages *are* some part of my own psyche–okay, but it seems to be a pretty cluefull part, so I should probably pay attention no matter what I think it is.
    The one that sticks out is, “If you fancy yourself My warrior you should study martial arts.” I liked the idea anyway–I realized it had been on my “I’ll do this someday” list for a long time, and who was I kidding, it wasn’t going to get any easier with age!–so I took up aikido. That led to teaching aikido to kids, and that turned out to be precisely the set of experiences I needed to deal with the ten-year-old I adopted three years later. I am deeply grateful for the results of this particular piece of advice; I think I’m a better person for it, and the world a better place because my child has a suitable home. If it wasn’t really the god, if it was my own subconscious instead–well, cool to have such a smart subconscious, and I’m still inclined to listen next time.
    Conversely, if the advice was wicked I’d feel a moral obligation to disregard it, even if it came from the god. I think divine testing is a nasty thing and I hope he doesn’t indulge in it, but I don’t know that he doesn’t. He’s not a particularly nice guy. And if it’s not a divine test, maybe it’s really bad advice from my own subconscious; I still have a moral obligation to disregard it.
    People from majority-Christian societies, whether they are Christian or not, often have a working definition of religion that contains a lot of things specific to the Abrahamic forms or even to Christianity only. Wicca, for example, is defined much more by practice than by belief. You could follow the same gods as a Wiccan and not be Wiccan because your practice was different (compare reconstructionist Egyptian faiths to Wiccans who follow the Egyptian gods); you can (by the practical tests my group used) be an atheist or agnostic Wiccan. The questions we’d ask were about ritual practice, because it was unhelpful to mix too-divergent practices.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer

    I kind of suspect my gods don’t care if *I* believe in them, let alone you.
    Yeah. Hecate cares that I do what I promised her I’d do, but that’s about it. I don’t even have to do what she tells me on most things. I usually do, although not always — I refused to do something nasty as a revenge on someone when she suggested it — but I don’t have to, and if I don’t, she shrugs and moves on. Belief has never come up.
    Hecate doesn’t entirely care what kind of a person I am. She cares that I keep going, that I’m reasonably healthy and content with my life, but she’s not an especially moral being, so she doesn’t much care if I am. She does care that I make choices consciously and carefully, and that I practice magic, and that I take good care of my dog, and that I’m not scared of dying, because those are things that specifically relate to her.
    But yeah, Wicca is more a practice than a belief.


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